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Rapid City, South Dakota

Rapid City, resting along the base of South Dakota’s Black Hills, is part of a complex wildland/urban interface (WUI). There are rolling hills within the city limits, surrounded by urban areas complete with cedar roofs and ordinances against cutting down old trees.Within the Black Hills, the Dakota Sandstone Hogback- a long, steep ridgeline- further complicates the geography. About 65 to 70 percent of Rapid City exists within the WUI, and they are no strangers to wildland fires.

Firewise activities in Rapid City

The Rapid City Fire Department had been worried for years about the possibility of a large fire within the city, according to Lieutenant Tim Weaver, who works in the Fire Marshal’s office. A few years ago, the fire department created the Survivable Space Initiative, which acknowledges homeowners who meet minimum standards in protecting their property from wildfire. The progress that the initiative has made provided the momentum for Firewise participation.

Chapel Valley and Woodridge are the two existing Firewise Communities as of 2012, each of which owns upwards of 10 acres of common area that needs maintenance. They have taken exceptional initiative in doing fuel reduction and convincing the city to provide funding; they have each had a Firewise Day so far, with two or three planned for this year.

Firewise activities in Rapid CityIn 2012, 103 fuel reduction projects were enacted, along with implementing a new brush chipping program. Their efforts have gone towards protecting a direct property value of over $36 million, double that with residual effects.   Populations of Mountain Pine Beetles, which create additional tree mortality, are being reduced. Two Firewise Demonstration Gardens have been opened, and Rapid City is currently working with the Bureau of Land Management to help put veterans in the area to work in fuel mitigation activities through a grant program. 

“Rapid City does a terrific job in operations and suppressions,” says Firewise advisor for the Northwest states, Gary Marshall. Though they’ve managed to keep the fires small, he warns that “there will be a day when the conditions will be right, and there will be a conflagration (large, destructive fire) within Rapid City.”

Therefore, Weaver, Marshall, and Andrew Tate with the South Dakota Division of Wildfire are working to raise awareness of the Firewise program. Through South Dakota State University and local fire departments, the imperative to make communities fire-safe is spreading throughout the area.

Rapid City is in fire country, and no one is oblivious to the massive amount of fuel in the area. Once the communities realized that this was a worthwhile cause, they committed to the project. “Judging by the activities they have for the year, they are really into it,” says Weaver. “They set up independent fundraisers to supplement the costs, and it’s amazing that they are doing that.”

Three other communities in Rapid City are looking at future Firewise status: Chapel Lane, Carriage Hills, and Kingswood Subdivision. When they do join the program, they’ll find productive, fire-conscious leads to follow in Woodridge and Chapel Valley.